Tips to Know Before You Go
By: Anne Jones
Rio de Janeiro is home to enticing beaches, breathtaking landscapes, soulful musical diversions and host to the world’s largest Carnival. The city is used to welcoming massive influxes of tourists, however this year 400,000 visitors are expected this month for the Olympics and in September for the Paralympics games.
Rio is a city defined by division. The gaudy wealth of Ipanema and Copacabana are juxtaposed with the crowded poverty of the favelas (Slum) located on top of the hills of the affluent neighborhoods. The very different lifestyles happening right next to each other, often results in violent clashes and crimes.
Social tension and street crime is hardly limited to the Marvelous City; so it’s important to be just as cautious and responsible as you would in any large urban area. The best advice anyone can give wherever you travel is to be smart and use common sense. However, here are seven tips to stay safe in Rio:
1 – Transportation From The Airport
From the international airport (Galeao Tom Jobim International Airport), you have the options to take a radio taxi, normal yellow taxi, or blue shuttle bus. The radio taxi is monitored and therefore the safest option, cost more than the yellow cab but worth it. The ride from this airport is quite long and passes through some of Rio’s rougher neighborhoods. If you’re a more seasoned traveler or very familiar with Rio and simply want the cheapest deal, you do have the option to take a yellow cab for about half the price, but we’ve found most everyone finds the radio taxis from here worth the additional cost.
2- Getting around Rio
It is perfectly fine to take yellow taxis off the street in Rio, unlike in some surrounding countries. Radio taxis are also available. Do take taxis over public transportation, as they are safer.
The subway system is nice but limited; do not use it at nighttime. The city buses are safe during daytime.
Never, I mean NEVER, take the white shuttle-looking vans driving around. They have been banned from the South Zone, but still stop sometimes. They are illegal and extremely unsafe; many people was robbed & killed inside those vans.
3- Ditch the iPhone
Do you want your iPhone snatched out of your hand by some wily preteen on the street in Ipanema? iPhones are easy money in Brazil. Given the byzantine tax regime and absurd markups on luxury goods, iPhones start at around $1,000 in Brazil. That means that brandishing your phone on the street is not a great idea. Walking while looking at your phone is also a good way to become a pedestrian fatality. Leave the phone back at your hotel or apartment. The same goes for iPads, cameras, jewelry, laptops, credit cards, wads of cash and even passports. A color copy of your passport should suffice while out on the town, and keep no more than the absolute necessary amount of cash on your person.
4- Beach Safety
Take to the beach only what you need for the day. Try to just bring cash and keys, and leave cards and smartphones at the hotel. The beach is one of Rio’s great equalizers. This, naturally, can create a convivial and lively environment, and also a great chance for opportunistic theft. Lately, some younger folks have taken to conducting arrastões, where they literally comb the beaches by surrounding unsuspecting beachgoers in large numbers and creating diversions while they pilfer their belongings. You’ll see many Brazilians putting belongings inside the top of the umbrella while sitting under it, and nothing is ever left unattended. Bring only a few reais to buy drinks and snacks from the parade of vendors.
Never, under any circumstances take a stroll along the beach at night. Is extremely dangerous and surely you’ll be robbed.
5- Street Smart – Safety Neighborhoods
Rio’s colorful neighborhoods spill over the mountains and hug the beaches and lagoon. Do some research before deciding where you’re going to stay, as some parts are more visitor-friendly than others.
Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon are generally safe and easy to get around, though there’s some petty crime on Copacabana Beach. Santa Teresa, an artsy hilltop neighborhood, is a great daytime destination for galleries and cafes, but it can be tough to get a cab to this neighborhood, making it a less convenient place to stay. Lapa, where most of the nightlife and dance clubs are, can be dangerous at night. Favelas, the sprawling hillside neighborhoods, should be avoided unless you’re part of an organized tour.
6- Using ATM & Credit Cards in Rio
This is perhaps the biggest thing you need to be aware of. Card theft and fraud are huge in Rio de Janeiro. It is also best to leave cards in your hotel and only carry cash on the streets. Whenever you use a credit or debit card at a restaurant or bar, they will bring a little card machine to your table. Never let them take the card in the back. Sometimes, you will have to go up to the counter to pay. This is standard though, so it is very unlikely any restaurant would even attempt to use a card not in front of a customer. However, at a bar at 4am you might forget, so drill it into your mind if you’ll be using cards (but again, life is much easier if you stick with cash).
When you need to use an ATM to withdraw money, avoid standalone machine often found in bus stations and pharmacies where sometimes your card can be copied. Never use any ATM at nighttime, is extremely dangers even for Brazilians.
7 – Local Advice
Never ask a stranger back to your hotel room. If someone spills something on you do not let them clean it. This is a common ruse to steal your wallet. Be aware of the pick-pocketing. Do try to learn some Portuguese words or phrases as the locals will appreciate the effort. Getting sloshed in a foreign country is never a good idea, so make sure you go easy on the Caipirinha when hitting the samba spots of Lapa or the boisterous bars of Ipanema. Stay in populated well-lit places and never go anywhere with a stranger. And most important of all, remember to have fun!
Anne Jones is editor for Brazil & U.S. Biz with broad experience in reporting about fashion, travel, lifestyle & entertainment.